Min Jung Son, Love Me Not, Grade 12, Age 19
Gold Medal, American Visions Award, 2013


Happy Valentine’s Day! In honor of this special day we would like to share some poems from past Scholastic Art & Writing Award winners. We hope you enjoy these beautiful words and find the inspiration to write your own poem today!


Letter from Orfeo to his Lover. Guisa, Cuba. 1959.

They say the snake has eyes of glass,
that trees of royal ebony shudder to life and hum
morbid tales, but I know better. I know the serpent’s
fangs. I know that black bark breaks under bullets
when compañeros (Borrachos, sin vergüenza) stoop
under boredom. I know the sap-stained edge
of the machete’s blade. I know the stench of mud,
bubbling beneath boots, when we sink and steep
in it after the crazed chirping of máquina guns
and the tremulous roars of bombas break the air.
The revolution rattles on and drags my scarred limbs with it.

These days, the chirps and roars are sporadic,
the bushes no longer rustle to the movements of Batista’s
men. The thick air of the Sierra Maestras sticks to my palm as I write
this to the rasping of cicadas. I remember La Habana. I remember
the beat of las baterías, the mayombé-bombe-mayombé 
of your wrist, your swarthy skin, as we swung across terracotta tiles,
melting into each other’s sweat. Your eyes, translucent.
The blaring of “El negro bembón” as mugs
of cerveza splintered against the floor.
The scuffling of your feet murmured against my ears.
Your crooked teeth glistened like the pesos in your fist.

You’ve probably many more men. Men with stenciled
goatees, cigarettes sagging from between coarse, scowling
lips. Men who pay better. Men with yank tanks
and tickets to the picture. Men who are not as old
as I. Keep in mind el año nuevo, the dense tufts of pink and yellow
that quivered between our tapping toes en el barrio chino.
The clattering of cymbals. The smirk smeared
on your face as you lured me across the street,
across glimmering garbage strewn over cement.
The dripping of dew from leaves to moist dirt
is not the glint of your face under dangling lights.

Ian Urrea, Grade 12, Age 18, 2013 Gold Medal, Best in Grade Award


People Love

I’ve been having this recurring
Ernest Hemingway is kissing
me in a supermarket or a shoe store, and people are stopped, grips loosened on their bags, eyes on us.
Then I realize we’re on TV
and millions of Americans
are sitting on loveseats
in or out of love, legs crossed, thinking about recessions, watching us kiss.
Ernest doesn’t mind
he’s been dead for years
in a place without hips and hands
nimble tongue caves, slick and wet.
But it’s too much for me to feel like a Discovery Channel special on people love
so I ask Ernest Hemingway to stop but he’s suddenly angry.
snarls “Can’t you see I’m whispering words in your mouth? Words you’ll need! For Gods sake.”
I wonder what words
he’s giving me and when I’ll need them and also
what would happen if
no one whispered words
into anyone else’s mouth?
“They would die in our throats” Ernest says in response to my never-asked question.

“And then life would steal the letters.”

Kathleen Radigan, Grade 11, Age 16, 2012 Gold Medal


Love Stories

Spoken Word Poem

Ten minutes
after my first kiss.
And all I want
is to stay on this train
hearing static
feeling plastic
where my forehead rests
on the window pane
until I recognise myself.
I want this feeling
to linger, tingling
who ever thought my own chest, cheeks, lips would feel lacking
I want to feel myself again
I want to hold my head again
let events unfold again
cause now I’m certain
the strangers on the subway can tell:
I’m a different person
they can tell
by my walk
that I’m wrong
like the same off-tune song
I’ve been chasing
ensures that I’ll never be happy
and I’ll never belong
Like something in my face, changed,
the moment she kissed it . . .

This is ridiculous.

Ten months after my first kiss?
I’ve calmed down a bit.
I’m ready to do this again.
I’m going to do it right this time
Because doing this right is the most important thing I’ll ever learn
lots of people don’t get a second turn.
My grandmother? only fell in love once.
It’s my favorite love story:
Florence, Italy,
Nineteen forty five,
A truck full of Jewish war refugees arrives
lucky to have escaped with their lives.
Twenty five years old, no family, no money,
just the clothes on her back and a mind full of epic Latin poetry
(funny how that came in handy)
So, Florence, Italy–
Not far into their first conversation–
my grandpa asks my grandma about her education.
In reply,
she recites the first line
of Dante’s Divine
. . . He recites the second.
She recites the third,
And the rest is my family history:
how I came to be
both a hopeless romantic
and a nerd.

And when I think about the way my grandparents met
I’m not surprised I haven’t figured it out yet
Maybe it takes a world war
an ancient inferno
to make two people commit–
or maybe the coincidence of rote memorized lines
reaching back through years of pain and fear to a present time
maybe realizing they no longer had to hide
had more to do with it.

Back to the subway, I realize: I’m a lesbian.
and the words to my love can’t be found in a Disney song
or a Shakespeare sonnet–even with the pronouns switched–
I’ve got to make it up as I go along.
And then I think, it’s actually liberating
to free ourselves from the parameters of iambic pentameter
wield ideals of love no one’s even thought of before–!

But, it began with a poem for me too.

One poem and I had this crazy idea
That we were thinking the same things.
Love when it comes, comes on pigeon wings
And I didn’t know it would feel so much like . . . obsession
I just knew I had to grab hold of that connection
So I wrote her the poems that were buzzing in my head, like
Yesterday in gym class,
I was watching you do jumping jacks.
I realize that’s weird.
or I want to be your favorite fruit!
or Please, give me the chance to fall in love with you.

So in reality? my favorite love story
Was the one between me and my girlfriend before she dumped me
but it’s also the story, the history, the song
of Dante Alighieri
and two twenty-somethings in Florence, Italy
making it up as they went along.
So even if my grandmother’s advice for a successful marriage:
“Alvays keep your salary lower than his”
Doesn’t really apply
to my situation
I still hope there’s something I can learn from
–dream from–
more than fifty years of
love you.

Rachel Berger, Grade 12, Age 17, 2012 Silver Medal

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